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Service Member to Civilian: Tips for Transitioning

About 7 percent of Americans are military veterans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Transitioning from a branch of the service to a civilian career can pose its own set of challenges. But many employers recognize that military training can be an asset, especially in fields where people must work in teams to complete detailed projects.

At Freese and Nichols, we have employees who have served in just about every branch of the military, and we greatly value their service, dedication, sacrifice and the experience it has given them. We take that background into account, and our policies support staff members who have continuing obligations in the military reserves. For instance, employees serving in the reserves can take up to two weeks off annually for military training duties, with half that time off paid at full salary.

The federal government offers multiple transition services, including through the Transition Assistance Program, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor.

We asked some of our veterans to share tips for bridging the military and civilian work worlds, and here’s their advice:

Start your job search early and expand your network

Use all available resources: Research companies you’re interested in and find potential contacts with whom you can build relationships. Put your credentials on LinkedIn and other social media to get the word out that you’re job-hunting. Network through military professional groups and industry organizations.

Aaron Conine, left, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, found contacts through a directory of military academy alumni. He emailed Jeff Payne (Air Force Academy), Freese and Nichols’ North Texas Assistant Division Manager, and Division Manager Gordon Wells (West Point) for guidance on how his project manager experience with an Air Force civil engineering squadron would translate into a civilian context.

Before long, Aaron landed a job in Freese and Nichols’ Water/Wastewater Transmission and Utility Group, which he joined in 2012.

Find an employer experienced in hiring veterans

Aaron said that even though he lacked some of the skills that engineers-in-training gain early on, Freese and Nichols treated his military service as a plus. “They valued what that meant, the leadership and management role,” and the company “took a chance on developing me technically, knowing it would take two to three years.”

Set goals and stick with them

Candice Chapman, left, spent five years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a military police officer and accident investigator and was determined to finish her bachelor’s degree in psychology when she joined Freese and Nichols part-time as an administrative assistant in the Denton/Frisco office. She said the company has backed her educational goals, including her pursuit of an MBA now that she’s a full-time marketing coordinator in the Dallas office. “I fully believe that coming to Freese and Nichols helped me figure out what I wanted to do and helped me transition,” she said.

Leverage your military skills into civilian roles

Difficult colleague? Stressful situation? You’ve done it. You’ve learned discipline, focus, leadership and collaboration. You’ve handled responsibility and solved problems.

“In the military, you’re working with people from all walks of life. You might not like someone, but you learn to work together so you can conclude the mission in a timely fashion,” said Sidney Green, left, an engineer-in-training who works on transportation design in Fort Worth. He joined the Army National Guard while attending Texas Tech University and remains in the active reserves.

“Trust in your training,” said James Kisiel, a mechanical engineer who manages federal projects in Houston. “You do know what is right, and you do have a lot of value to bring to any organization,” said James, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves with 26 years of military service.

“In tough project scenarios or emergency needs that arise from our clients, you can be relied upon to ‘lead the way’ to determine resolutions, keep the team positive and stay focused on solutions,” said Georgia Division Manager Trooper Smith, right, a previous officer in the Army National Guard. “While ‘leading the way’ is not easy, your military training can relate well during these tough scenarios.”

Learn from a mentor

James, left, recommended finding advisers who are experienced, successful people with values you admire. “Having the right mentor is key,” he said. “They help you give a vision to your blind spots.”

Aaron said he tells engineers-in-training to “ask everybody questions.” He has built his technical skills through training seminars and on-the-job learning but also by seeking out a number of colleagues for guidance.  

Use your background to establish rapport with clients

Getting to know your clients and building long-term relationships are key to providing the best service. Sidney said that discussing military experience can provide a special way to connect with clients, especially those who have served. “It’s something you both can relate to,” he said. “The camaraderie you find in the military is hard to find anywhere else.”

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